Friday, March 03, 2006

March 13, 2006


PLEASE NOTE: This is the second part in my series of essays on the history of Systems Development. This week's issue will discuss events prior to and including the 1960's.

Competition between computer manufacturers heated up during this decade, resulting in improvements in speed, capacity, and capabilities. Of importance here was the introduction of the much touted IBM 360 (the number was selected to denote it was a comprehensive solution - 360 degrees). Other computer vendors offered products with comparable performance, if not more so, but the IBM 360 was widely adopted by corporate America.

The programming of computers was still a difficult task and, consequentially, Procedural Languages were introduced (the third generation languages). In actuality, these languages got their start in the late 1950's, but the proliferation of computers in the 1960's triggered the adoption of procedural languages such as COBOL, FORTRAN, and PL/1. Interestingly, these languages were patterned after Les Matthies' "Playscript" technique which made active use of verbs, nouns, and "if" statements.

The intent of the Procedural Languages was twofold: to simplify programming by using more English-like languages, and; to create universal languages that would cross hardware boundaries. The first goal was achieved, the second was not. If the languages were truly universal, it would mean that software would be portable across all hardware configurations. Manufacturers saw this as a threat; making software truly portable made the selection of hardware irrelevant and, conceivably, customers could migrate away from computer vendors. In order to avoid this, small nuances were introduced to the compilers for the Procedural Languages thereby negating the concept of portability. This issue would be ignored for many years until the advent of the Java programming language.

The 1960's also saw the introduction of the Data Base Management System (DBMS). Such products were originally designed as file access methods for Bill of Materials Processing (BOMP) as used in manufacturing. The "DBMS" designation actually came afterwards. Early pioneers in this area included Charlie Bachman of G.E. with his Integrated Data Store (IDS) which primarily operated under Honeywell GCOS configurations; Tom Richley of Cincom Systems developed TOTAL for Champion Paper, and; IBM's BOMP and DBOMP products. In 1969, IBM introduced IMS which became their flagship DBMS product for several years.

With the exception of IMS, the early DBMS offerings were based on a network model which performed chain-processing. IMS, on the other hand, was a hierarchical model involving tree-processing.

Realizing that programming and data access was becoming easier and computer performance being enhanced, companies now wanted to capitalize on this technology. As a result, corporate America embarked on the era of "Management Information Systems" (MIS) which were large systems aimed at automating business processes across the enterprise. These were major system development efforts that challenged both management and technical expertise.

It was the MIS that married "Systems and Procedures" departments with computing/EDP departments and transformed the combined organization into the "MIS" department. This was a major milestone in the history of systems. The systems people had to learn about computer technology and the programmers had to learn about business systems.

Recognizing that common data elements were used to produce the various reports produced from an MIS, it started to become obvious that data should be shared and reused in order to eliminate redundancy, and to promote system integration and consistent data results. Consequently, Data Management (DM) organizations were started, the first being the Quaker Oats Company in Chicago, Illinois in 1965. The original DM organizations were patterned after Inventory Control Departments where the various components were uniquely identified, shared and cross-referenced. To assist in this regard, such organizations made use of the emerging DBMS technology. Unfortunately, many DM organizations lost sight of their original charter and, instead, became obsessed with the DBMS. Data as used and maintained outside of the computer was erroneously considered irrelevant. Even worse, the DBMS was used as nothing more than an elegant access method by programmers. Consequently, data redundancy plagued systems almost immediately and the opportunity to share and reuse data was lost. This is a serious problem that persists in companies to this day.

OUR BRYCE'S LAW OF THE WEEK therefore is...
"The only way that information systems communicate, both internally and externally to other systems, is through shared data."



The Quality Assurance Institute will be holding its 26th Annual Quality Conference at the Rosen Plaza Hotel in Orlando, FL on April 24th - 28th. For information, contact the Institute in Orlando at 407/363-1111.

The World Conference on Quality and Improvement will be held May 1st-3rd at the Midwest Airlines Center in Milwaukee, WI. For information, contact the American Society for Quality at 800-248-1946 or 414/272-8575.

The 15th World Congress on Information Technology will be held May 1st - 5th in Austin, TX. For information, call 512/505-4077.

The 17th International Conference of the Information Resource Management Association will be held May 21st-24th at the Wyndham Hotel in Washington D.C. For information, call IRMA headquarters in PA at 717/533-8879

The National And State CIO Association will be holding their 2006 Midyear Conference at The Capital Hilton, in Washington, DC on May 31st-June 2nd. For information, contact NASCIO headquarters in Lexington, KY at: 859/514-9153

If you have got an upcoming IRM related event you want mentioned, please e-mail the date, time and location of the event to


I attended a trade show not long ago and sat in on a session that described a quick and dirty approach to software development as led by someone from academia. Basically, he described a process where the end-user was interviewed, information requirements specified and then, using power programming tools, software was created to satisfy the requirements. Specifying information requirements is a hot topic with me and I pressed the instructor on precisely what he meant by an information requirement. Frankly, all I got was a lot of vague generalities and no substance. Basically, all he was concerned with was a screen or report layout. There was no consideration for the business rationale for why the screen or report was needed, just its layout. This is very disheartening as people are still not asking the right questions to gain the insight the user needs to fulfill his/her business purpose. I guess this is one reason why we are content doing small things in systems development; we simply cannot expand our minds and think of total systems, just individual programs. I know the instructor meant well, but he is perpetuating the problem of poorly defined information requirements. I don't care how good of a programming tool he has got, an elegant solution to the wrong problem solves nothing.

Such is my Pet Peeve of the Week.


I received an e-mail from a Bill Wallace of Florida who wrote me regarding last week's essay on "Part I of the History on Systems Development."
Bill writes:

"I found your history of Systems Development interesting, particularly the part concerning early Systems and Procedures Departments. What kind of equipment did they use back then to process data?"

Thanks Bill for your note,
Systems were initially implemented by paper and pencil using ledgers, journals (logs), indexes, and spreadsheets. We have had some rather interesting and imaginative filing systems, everything from cards and folders, to storage cabinets.

Perhaps the earliest mechanical device was the ancient abacus used for simple math (which is still used even to this day). The late 1800's saw the advent of cash registers and adding machines as popularized by such companies as NCR in Dayton, Ohio under John Patterson who also introduced sweeping changes in terms of dress and business conduct. This was adopted by Thomas Watson, Sr. who worked for many years at NCR and carried forward these practices to IBM and the rest of the corporate world. In the early 1900's, tabulating equipment was introduced to support such things as census counting. This was then widely adopted by corporate America. Occasionally you will run into old-timers who can describe how they could program such machines using plug boards. Punch card sorters were added as an adjunct to tabulating equipment. And then, finally, we saw the introduction of the commercial computer in the early 1950's.

As a footnote, most of what IBM's Watson learned about business was from his early days at NCR. However, he had a falling out with Patterson who fired him. As a small bit of trivia, after Watson died, he was buried in Dayton on a hilltop overlooking NCR headquarters, the company he couldn't conquer.

Again, Thanks for your e-mail. Keep those cards and letters coming.

Folks, don't forget to check out our BRYCE'S CRASH COURSE IN MANAGEMENT which is a free on-line multimedia presentation offering pragmatic advice on how to discharge the duties of a manager, whether it be for a commercial or non-profit enterprise. Frankly, for someone aspiring to be a manager or for a new manager, it will be the best 45 minutes you can invest in yourself. Check it out on the cover of our corporate web page at:

For a complete listing of my essays, see the "PRIDE" Special Subject Bulletins section of our corporate web site.

MBA is an international management consulting firm specializing in Information Resource Management. We offer training, consulting, and writing services in the areas of Enterprise Engineering, Systems Engineering, Data Base Engineering, Project Management, Methodologies and Repositories. For information, call us at 727/786-4567.

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Management Visions is a presentation of M. Bryce & Associates, a division of M&JB Investment Company of Palm Harbor, Florida, USA. The program is produced on a weekly basis and updated on Sundays. It is available in versions for RealPlayer, Microsoft Media Player, and MP3 suitable for Podcasting. See our web site for details. You'll find our broadcast listed in several Podcast and Internet Search engines, as well as Apples' iTunes.

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Copyright © 2006 by M&JB Investment Company of Palm Harbor, Florida, USA. All rights reserved. "PRIDE" is the registered trademark of M&JB Investment Company.

This is Tim Bryce reporting.

Since 1971: "Software for the finest computer - the Mind."



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